Last year, voters — fed up with the Missouri Legislature’s failed attempts to police itself through ethics reform — passed Clean Missouri.
It was a sweeping ethics reform initiative petition that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving any single gift worth more than $5 to lawmakers. That, according to proponents, means no more steak dinners, expensive booze or junkets.
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the workings at the Capitol knows such gifts were standard fare. For decades, the building was awash in gifts ranging from lobbyist-provided meals to expensive fruit baskets, not to mention box seats at sporting events.
It’s all part of the business of buying influence, which isn’t always in the best interest of the general public.
However, the law changed that, and the change appears to be working.
A KCUR-FM, Kansas City, analysis of state data concludes that spending on lawmakers dropped 94 percent since voters approved the $5 cap, according to an Associated Press story we ran Sunday.
That amounted to less than $17,000, compared to last year’s spending of about $300,000.
Lawmakers have long defended the gifts, saying a free meal doesn’t buy their vote. Maybe not, but it does give lobbyists a level of access to elected officials that we as constituents don’t have.
In the AP story, Kelly Gillespie, lobbyist and president of the Missouri Biotech Association, said his group last year spent about $4,000 on a tour of life science businesses in western Missouri in an effort to educate lawmakers on drug discovery and health care affordability. That amount is prohibited under the new rules.
But he understands why voters enacted the limit.
“There were other folks that were taking people to the Daytona 500 or to rock concerts or Masters golf tickets,” Gillespie said in the story. “And there was a feeling that it had gotten too much, and it was the Wild West.”
So voters should realize their wishes have been realized — undo influence is waning.